OOOoooh boy, this game, y’all. I’ll be honest, I several times thought about just walking away from it, but then I remember I needed to review something, and I’ve already dropped something like 40 mobile games for being utter shit. Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech isn’t utter shit, and for long spans it was even somewhat enjoyable. It’s a bog standard RPG story about friendships and family wrapped around a card game, and I do like card games.
But you know what I don’t like? Games that randomly introduce absolute bullshit mechanics to give them the illusion of challenge because they couldn’t think of anything else to do. I’m talking about enemies who can kill player characters with one hit, or others who can instantly recover all of their health, dragging an already agonizingly long fight to double or triple the time they take to finish. There’s monsters who can hit all party members for half their health, meaning the next turn has to be spent guzzling expensive health potions instead of playing cards. Half the time, they’ll just cast the same spell again. It’s almost like they only have two cards in their deck.
All right, let’s set that aside. First things first, here’s the story. The game starts with two friends, the wannabe knight hero Armilly and the aspiring mage/alchemist Copernica, wandering outside their village to search for the great MacGuffin, conveniently leaving them unaware that the Void army is burning their homes to the ground and kidnapping the Heroes Guild to make way for unleashing The Behemoth and thereby destroying the world. As usual.
Upon returning to town, they pick up their childhood friend Galleo, a recluse living in his mother’s basement who serves as both a tank and a healer while also acting as that one guy who’s always complaining about doing any of this crazy adventure stuff. Later on, the trio are joined by wandering ronin Orik, who has a mysterious connection to the villain of the story, and then by twins Tarah and Thayne, orphans who are presented as thieves, but mostly serve as backup mages and healers.
Each character starts as a trope, and they follow the tried and true path of becoming a family during the journey to kill about 5,000 enemies and bosses. It’s fine, perfectly serviceable as a game story goes, but it’s a little disappointing that the story is so adamantly devoted to sticking to the same old cliches.
I’ll leave that alone too. The core gameplay is good, with you controlling an active party of three characters, each of which has their own pool of eight cards to add to the deck. Over time, more cards are added for each character, and many cards can be upgraded to add more oomph to them. (One card in Copernia’s deck, however, does not seem to work. Arcane Detective is supposed to grant an extra turn, but it doesn’t.) Basic attack cards cost nothing to play and will generate a cog, while more advanced cards spend cogs, making it something like a mana pool.
Armilly, Galleo, and Orik all have cards that will use “X” cogs to dish out power attacks, so if you fill up the cogs meter over several turns, they can deal out a huge amount of damage. Lastly, in any given turn where you play all three of one character’s cards, a fourth is added. The fourth card is always the same, and is determined by the character’s current weapon. For instance, Copernica can wield a spell book that grant’s protective shields to her companions, or she can use another that puts one enemy to sleep. This makes it possible to tailor the team’s fourth card perks to your liking.
It’s not all fun and games, though, because it’s possible to get a hand that can’t be played. Even with careful curation of the ratio of “free” cards, you still might get a whole bunch of cards with high cog costs. In these situations, you can only redraw two cards, which can also have the same problem. It is extremely aggravating to have to sit and take blows from enemies for two or three turns and be able to do nothing because the luck of the draw isn’t with you. An easier solution to this would have been to redraw the whole hand if the current one is unplayable, but that’s obviously not an option.
Certain cards have team link abilities, so for instance, using Tarah and Thayne’s card to steal health from enemies also activates Orik to cast an additional healing spell. This further incentivizes you to think not only what cards to play in your deck, but what members to add to your party. It’s a neat idea that can help pull the right teams out of tricky situations.
Although I frequently swapped parties to keep all the characters at even levels, the grouping that worked best for me was Orik, Copernica, and Tarah and Thayne. Orik and the twins both have healing spells, and they have some useful spells that can benefit the whole party. Later in the game, the twins get a card called Doom that attaches bonus Arcane damage for every time the afflicted enemy takes damage. Since they already have a card adding poison to their attacks, it’s entirely possible for a single enemy to be waylaid within two turns. Add to that Orik tossing out Storm damage and Copernica slinging all kinds of elemental hell, and they’re a good crew to wreck everything from lowly minions to big bosses.
In fact, I’m glad I went into the final two boss fights with them, because any other configuration would have surely led me to losses and probably tossing the game in frustration. The first fight was against a dude with 50,000 health, and carving that down took forever and used up a lot of health potions. Then with only 100 health left, he regenerated back to full health, so I had to do it all over again. I finally beat him, and he just stood up and cast the popular RPG villain spell Go Fuckest Thineself to paralyze the party and escape to set loose the big bad evil and cue up the final fight of the game.
But if you thought that last fight was bullshit, get ready for the All You Can Eat Buffet of Bullshit. The final boss has a head and two limbs, and in each phase, the “mouth” seals with a gate so that every attack is reduced to 1 damage. First you have to fight the arms, both of which have 6,200 health and decks full of area of effect attacks. So you say, “Well, that’s not so bad,” right? Except the bastard’s head has 50,000 health, and after defeating the arms and dealing a couple thousand points to the head, this dickhead casts a healing spell that says on the card 510 points, but still refills the full 6,200 health on both arms, closes the mouth, and effectively restarts the fight all over again. This goes on forever, in my case 7 rounds. Oh, and even if you still have some health potions left, you’re not allowed to use them. Isn’t that fun?
No. No, instead it was a thirty minute slog through a swamp of bullshit, and the final payoff was underwhelming. Not terrible, but not really great either.
Before I get to the scoring, I should mention the other important stuff. The graphics are good, with the animations for the party and their enemies adding some life to the fights. There are a few too many reskins for my liking, but at least moving from one region to the next leads to whole new groups to fight instead of just another bunch of palette swaps. The backgrounds are nicely colorful, many also animated to reflect the current situation (ie: Fires burning because the village is being ransacked, and stuff like that for the rest of the game, too.) The card art is good, and the variety of cards available for each character can lead to a high degree of player choice. There’s also a New Game+ mode, letting you take all the unlocked cards and equipment into the start, and an optional higher Legendary difficulty level for all you masochists out there. The music is okay. It’s not bad, but for a game of this length, it could have done with a little more variety. The voices are RPG gibberish, the kind of stuff meant to still claim to have voices in game without paying voice actors much. It’s serviceable, if mostly forgettable.
This is one of those times when assigning a numerical score is a real burden. Did I dislike the moments of annoyance and aggravation enough to knock it down to a 2 or a 3? Or will I ignore those and factor in the many hours where I thought it was mostly alright and go with a 4 or a 5? In the end, I have to give it a 3 and offer an explanation. During the last quarter of the game it just felt like every other fight had enemies that were meant to either slow down rounds of combat or to waste resources. The latter kind forced me to go back to previous regions to grind fights for money. So by that point, I wasn’t playing because I was having fun. Rather, I was just doing it to complete the story and be able to make this review.
So where do I stand on recommending Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech? I guess it depends on your threshold for annoyances. If you don’t mind them, then this could be your kind of game. It’s got a lot of creative energy and good ideas when it comes to cards and teamwork. But it also has some really bad ideas for how to challenge players, and the story is mostly meh. Anyway, it’s your call. Have at it.